SeaPort Airlines would not provide security screening at Cape airport

Friday, September 4, 2009

SeaPort Airlines, the only airline of five competing for Cape Girardeau service that doesn't use Transportation Security Administration screeners to board passengers and doesn't want to, took its turn Thursday with the Airport Advisory Board.

SeaPort, based in Portland, Ore., recently won contracts to fly passengers from four Arkansas cities to Memphis, Tenn. It wants to add Cape Girardeau to that list and only bid on Cape Girardeau's contract out of the six cities grouped together in the current round of contracts under the Essential Air Service program.

The program provides carriers with substantial subsidies to fly passengers from smaller cities to hub airports.

SeaPort brought the company owner and staff along as well as a nine-seat Pilatus aircraft. And it brought a realization that persuading the nine-member board to accept no security screening before a flight would be tough.

"I know we have an uphill battle to convince you," said Rob McKinney. chief operating officer for SeaPort.

In a presentation that lasted more than an hour, McKinney sought to convince the board to change the destination to Memphis, Tenn., where Delta Air Lines operates a hub.

Without security screening, passengers can board directly, he said. They will be flown to a hangar operated by SeaPort, then driven by shuttle bus to the main terminal where they will be screened before boarding a major airline.

McKinney said SeaPort will use a heavy marketing campaign and low introductory fares to induce travelers to try its service. "Once people try us, they are very loyal," he said.

The company would offer four flights a day to Memphis.

Cape Girardeau has always had service that includes baggage and passenger screening. But the current carrier, Great Lakes Airlines, has failed to draw any business during its stint here, attracting on average two passengers a day.

Reliability, convenience

The key to the company's success, McKinney told the board, is reliability and convenience. "We do what we say we are going to do, we don't blow it up and we don't overpromise and underdeliver."

The other four carriers hoping to take over the Cape Girardeau contract include Locair and Gulfstream Airlines, both of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Cape Air of Hyannis, Mass., and Air Choice One of Farmington, Mo. The airport board hopes to make a recommendation next week, followed by a city council action. The final decision will be made by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which can award all six cities as one contract or split the business between carriers.

Board members, during five sessions with carriers, have not set any make-or-break rules. While the federal contract calls for 19-seat aircraft, several are offering nine-seat options. A waiver from the city would allow the smaller planes.

"We have to consider what the community wants or what we perceive it wants," said Robbie Rollins, chairman of the board. "There are a lot of pluses in every company we have spoke with."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, MO

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